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Archive: September, 2012

POSTED: Friday, September 28, 2012, 12:37 PM
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David Barlow and Blair Baker in Bristol Riverside Theatre's production of "Oleanna."

By Howard Shapiro

There’s something insufferable about the way Blair Baker and David Barlow, who portray the two characters in David Mamet’s Oleanna, come across onstage at Bristol Riverside Theatre — and that is a high compliment.

Each plays an utterly unlikable and illogical person in this drama about power and revenge, and their performances are, in the end, stunning. I write in the end as a caveat: You have to give Oleanna a chance, because Mamet throws monkeywrenches your way.

howard shapiro @ 12:37 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Saturday, September 29, 2012, 12:24 AM
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From left, Jenna Horton, Bradley K. Wrenn, Justin Jain, Robert DaPonte and David Johnson in "The Giant Squid." Photo by Mark Valenzuela.

By Howard Shapiro

The Giant Squid, a great homegrown goof of a show that was a dark-horse hit of the 2008 Philly Fringe festival, is back in a version that’s eerier and a little less playful than the original. Yet it comes together with more polish — especially in Mark Valenzuela’s spooky sound design and the lighting by David O’Connor and Terry Brennan, both aspects of the show that are essential to the fun.

The show is led by an earnest but so-called professor (Robert DaPonte) who lectures us about the giant killer squid he pursues, aided by his enormously pregnant wife (Jenna Horton, new to the cast) and his crew: an uber-macho fighter (David Johnson), an Inuit explorer (Justin Jain) and a young adventurer (Bradley K. Wrenn).

howard shapiro @ 12:24 AM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Tuesday, September 25, 2012, 8:07 AM

By Howard Shapiro


The Philadelphia Theatre Company and Wilma Theater are the big winners of this year's Barrymore Awards, in what may be the final curtain for the theater honors that recognize work on the region's stages.

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POSTED: Friday, September 21, 2012, 11:15 AM

By Wendy Rosenfield

In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king, and for Australia’s Back to Back Theatre, making its second Live Arts Festival appearance (the first was 2009’s Small Metal Objects), in the land of Food Court, the simple capacity for speech determines ruler and subject. Performed by disabled actors--some with intellectual disabilities such as Down’s Syndrome, others with both physical and intellectual challenges--to a haunting score improvised each night by a live musical trio called The Necks, Food Court raises troubling questions about human nature and exploitation.

This production requires patience from its audience, plus a willingness to visit the soul’s darkest corners and remain there for about an hour, but even then it’s rough going. Much of the action occurs behind a scrim that serves to suffuse the setting with a murky haze, and supplies a surface on which to project each line of dialogue; the actors’ speech is difficult to understand unaided. The Necks’ skittery bass-plucking maintains an undercurrent of anxiety, and the cruelty in Bruce Gladwin’s script is basic and streamlined: two obese women wearing aerobic leotards encounter another woman in a food court whose cognitive and physical functions are even more compromised than their own. They bully her, call her fat and stupid, drag her into the woods, force her to endure vicious humiliations and abuses. And even among these three there’s a hierarchy.

Wendy Rosenfield @ 11:15 AM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Thursday, September 20, 2012, 2:55 PM

By Howard Shapiro

The newly reopened Bucks County Playhouse is already planning a world premiere, and a high-level one, too: A production based on Stephen King’s novel Misery, which the Playhouse will produce along with two big backers, Warner Brothers and Castle Rock Entertainment.

The Playhouse, in New Hope, named no cast in an announcement of the premiere Thursday, but listed a creative team mostly Broadway-based. It’s not unusual for the 50-plus professional stages in metropolitan Philadelphia to stage world premieres — about a fourth of all plays performed here are being done for the first time. But the Playhouse deal is different.

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POSTED: Thursday, September 20, 2012, 12:35 PM

By Wendy Rosenfield

It’s been an enlightening experience, seeing Charlotte Ford’s Bang at this year’s Live Arts Festival, and then, a week later, taking in Young Jean Lee Theater Company’s Untitled Feminist Show. Both feature naked women of childbearing age with average- to above-average proportions dancing, mugging, confronting the audience, and generally having a great time in their own skin.

But that’s not all they have in common. Both forego a linear storyline for alternating collaborative and individual vignettes, with feminism and its emphasis on community built into the performances’ very structure. It’s almost as though Bang functions as a warmup for Untitled Feminist Show. The themes examined there get bigger and bolder under Lee and company’s direction, and despite an absence of dialogue (unless you count two songs, one in Welsh and the other whose lyrics are “LaLaLa”) its message comes across loud and clear. This is Lee’s second Live Arts Festival entry--the first was 2007‘s Songs of Dragons Flying to Heaven, about Asian-American identity--and she approaches gender and ideas of femininity with a similar wry humor.

Wendy Rosenfield @ 12:35 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Thursday, September 20, 2012, 8:51 AM


By Toby Zinman

For the Inquirer

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POSTED: Thursday, September 20, 2012, 8:44 AM
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Toshiki Okada’s triptych of plays operates on two levels. The first pokes fun at the absurdities of office life. Three temps must plan the retirement party of a permanent worker. Great, despair-addled problem: What restaurant should they select, since they barely know her?

Most jokes emerge from Okada’s clever comedic techniques of unimportant phrases and perspectives repeated ad nauseum, such as a co-worker debating the morality of temporary workers violating the office hierarchy. These speeches complement a formalized, presentational style, but despite the actors speaking Japanese, (supertitles, including Wikipedia jokes, appear on the back wall), little but their rail-thin physiques distinguishes them from their American counterparts.

Okada’s repetitious choreography deepens the absurd situation; a couple flirts, with each other and with the line between hitting on and harassment. He dips into long crouches to peer up her skirt while she complains of an air conditioner set to an unbearable temperature.

Jim Rutter @ 8:44 AM  Permalink | 0 comments
About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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